Erdogan’s Train to Authoritarianism

In: Sociology of Islam
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Recep Tayyip Erdogan — Turkey’s current president (elected 2014) and former prime minister (2003–2014) — infamously once declared that “democracy is like a train; you get off once you have reached your [real] destination.” In other words, one can use democratic means to achieve authoritarian goals. Analyzing Erdogan’s imaginary train journey, one must conclude that the Turkish leader never had the intention of reaching democracy. Indeed, now that he has achieved his actual authoritarian goal, he has jumped off the train. However, his journey did not always seem to be destined for such a terminus. Indeed, in his first decade in power, Erdogan won three parliamentary elections by ever-larger shares of the popular vote because he had helped to build Turkey into a burgeoning economic powerhouse and a moderate Islamic democracy. In the past decade, however, despite winning Turkey’s first popular election for president in August 2014, presiding over another great parliamentary victory in November 2015, and then winning re-election as president as well as retaining control of parliament in June 2018, Erdogan’s increasing authoritarianism has helped precipitate an accelerating crisis both domestically and externally for Turkey. His actions have also negatively affected the Kurds. Although his partial setback in the local elections held in March and June 2019 did seem to affect his hold on power, his seemingly successful creation of a Turkish safety zone in Northern (Syrian) Kurdistan in October 2019 revived his flailing domestic fortunes.

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